Nelida Jandira Fernandes Alves is the personification of girl power.

The Bachelor of Civil Engineering (Honours) student at the University of South Australia has never felt more confident in her decision to break into a traditionally male-dominated field.
The proud recipient of an Australia Awards scholarship, Nelida is emerging a strong advocate for more Timorese women in Engineering, calling for all those Timorese women with a love of maths and science to also take the plunge.

“It’s a great field to study especially if you love a challenge,” says the Timorese awardee.

“It’s not just that engineering is a male-dominated field but you, as a female, should also ask yourself – if men can do it, why can’t I?”

For Nelida, there is power in numbers. She believes that the more women in engineering, the more level the playing field. “The more diverse the people who are working together, the more creative the solutions will be. I strongly encourage women not to be scared to do this course because engineering is just like any other course – you just need to be dedicated.”

Although she had little work experience prior to her Australia Awards scholarship, Nelida proved herself as adept as her male counterparts during her industry placement with Woodside Energy, an Australian oil and gas company. At Woodside, Nelida worked alongside the environmental engineering team to oversee water treatments for oil and gas companies.

“I’ve really enjoyed learning how to apply theoretical knowledge from university to a real life problem. Secondly, the work environment is quite supportive of women so the diversity in the work place has boosted my confidence in the field,”

But it hasn’t been all been smooth sailing for the potential engineer. Nelida recounts the initial challenges of not only learning to master English but also having to overcome her shyness in an environment where her gender is a minority.

“You already feel a bit behind because English is not your first or even your second language. On top of that you’re shy so you think for sure these men will dominate you as most of my classes were full of males.
“I had to be my own cheerleader. I encouraged myself to see this as a challenge that I could face head on. So I went out of my way to make friends with my male colleagues. I had to prove to them that I’m just as good at this, I can do this.”

Nelida added that her desire to contribute to her country’s development is also helping her to stay on course.
“I asked myself – what can I offer my country? I want to go back to Timor-Leste and contribute to its development with the knowledge that I now have.

“My aim is to work in Engineering on return home and apply all the knowledge I have gained from here towards a better future for Timor-Leste,” she said.

Nelida said she chose to specialise in water because of the lack of management of Timor-Leste’s water structures. According to a UNICEF Annual Report on Timor-Leste from 2013, a World Health Organisation-backed study of water quality in four Timor-Leste districts (Lautem, Covalima, Aileu and Dili) found that a staggering 70 per cent of water sources were microbiologically contaminated.

But thanks to her practical experience at Woodside Energy, Nelida now has valuable experience across water resource management, which she plans to draw upon to support her country’s current efforts.

“I’m hoping that by working with other engineers we can develop strategies that support our constructions, strategies that are more sustainable and will not contribute to global warming.”

Nelida is a member of Engineers in Australia and is also involved with Engineering Women in Australia.

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